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Is it illegal to drive with one headlight out?

One headlight out? Your car might be considered defective or not roadworthy, depending on the state.

While some of the laws around roadworthiness are a bit ambiguous, the general consensus is that, yes, driving a car without two headlights is in fact illegal on safety grounds.  

Even though you might feel like you can get away with driving at night with one headlight out, if you do so, you’re dangerously close to having no lights and you run the risk of getting pulled over for having a defective car or having an insurance claim refused because your car isn’t considered roadworthy.

You should always consult the authorities for the most up-to-date laws but keep reading for some general state-by-state guidance on the laws around driving with one headlight out. And be aware that this article is written for people driving light vehicles in the different states and territories of Australia; heavy vehicles are subject to different, national standards of compliance.

Can you drive with one headlight out in New South Wales?

While the NSW Roads & Maritime Services fact sheet on driving offences doesn’t name driving with a defective headlight as a specific offence, more ambiguous offences like driving a vehicle that doesn’t comply to state standards could be applied to a broken headlight and cost you $110. If you drive with one headlight at night, you’re also at risk of getting pulled over by the police and hit with a defect notice - and if you drive in breach of a minor notice, you’re looking at a $330 fine and one demerit point.  

Can you drive with one headlight out in Victoria? 

While the VicRoads website doesn’t directly state that a broken headlight will cause you grief, its exhaustive list of fines and penalties, which can be found here, makes it clear that you’ll get one demerit point and a $238 fine for driving at night or in hazardous weather conditions without headlights on. As in NSW, you’re also likely to run into trouble if you're issued a defect notice and then continue to use your vehicle; if you drive contrary to a minor defect notice, you’re risking one demerit point and a $238 fine.

Can you drive with one headlight out in South Australia? 

According to the South Australian Government’s fact sheet on light vehicle standards, all lights must be intact for a car to clear a defect inspection. The Royal Automobile Association’s page on headlights advises that aside from a defect notice, you’re also risking a $233 fine and one demerit point if you drive with a faulty headlight. 

Can you drive with one headlight out in Queensland?

As per the Queensland Government’s information page on demerit points, failing to have your headlights on at night or in hazardous conditions can get you a $126 fine and one demerit point. You can also be pulled over for a vehicle inspection at any time and be issued with a defect notice if your car isn’t in compliance with vehicle standards; the information available online about vehicle standards in Queensland isn’t clear on headlights but most states seem to agree that a roadworthy car has all lights in working order. 

Can you drive with one headlight out in Tasmania? 

Just last year, The Examiner reported that police were cracking down on faulty headlights on the road. The Tasmanian Government’s database on traffic offences states that driving at night or in weather reduced visibility conditions without headlights effectively operating can get you a $159 fine and one demerit point. 

Can you drive with one headlight in the Australian Capital Territory?

According to Access Canberra’s demerit point information page, driving at night without your headlights on is an offence that can get you one demerit point; you can also get two demerit points for driving contrary to a defect notice, which you could be issued for faulty lights.

Can you drive with one headlight in Western Australia? 

We couldn’t find the specific penalty rates but according to WA’s Road Traffic Code, cars should not be driven during hours of darkness or during hazardous weather conditions (that restrict visibility) without headlights lit. 

Can you drive with one headlight in the Northern Territory? 

The NT is known for being one of the least regulated states or territories in Australia for road rules and, perhaps unsurprisingly, its government’s page on driving and transport has limited information. We couldn’t find any specific guidance on driving with only one headlight but considering all other states and territories have laws that state or imply that it’s illegal, you might want to avoid tempting fate.

Can driving with one headlight out affect your insurance? 

Yes. If you don’t keep your car roadworthy, you run the risk of having a claim refused or a policy cancelled. You should check your specific insurance coverage for details but if you can’t be bothered digging out your paperwork, Allianz has a useful guide on keeping your car roadworthy that you can check out here.  

This article is not intended as legal advice. You should check with your local road authority to verify the information written here is suitable to your situation before driving in this manner.

​Have you been fined for having a headlight out? Tell us in the comments below.

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